Winger Jim Lynch was one of only two men to coach his team to Superleague’s Grand Slam, and the only coach to win Championship Play-off titles in the Heineken British League and the Sekonda Superleague. He also received two Coach of the Year awards in the Superleague.
The Toronto native also earned a footnote in British ice hockey history as one of a handful of imports in 1989 who successfully sued the BIHA to be reclassified as British, which left the governing body needing to re-think their policy of three overseas players per club.
As player-coach in 1985-86, he led Murrayfield Racers to victory in the Norwich Union Cup and the Heineken British Championships at Wembley Arena. Twelve years later in the vast Nynex Arena in Manchester, his Ayr Scottish Eagles completed the Grand Slam of Sekonda Superleague, Benson & Hedges Cup, Express Cup and Play-off victories.
Jim arrived from Toronto in 1980 and joined Fife Flyers, remaining with Scottish teams for most of his British career, only going south of the border for three seasons. Blessed with an acute ability to read the play though not, in his own estimation, a particularly good skater, he enjoyed an impressive debut season with the Flyers, being voted the Overseas Rookie of the Year, jointly with his fellow countryman Alex Dampier. He was also selected to the first of two successive places on the All-Star ‘A’ team.
After his reclassification as British, he was snapped up by the Heineken League’s ambitious Solihull Barons and was their second highest scorer behind ex-NHLer Jere Gillis. The next season he helped Peter (Jonker) Johnson’s Humberside Seahawks to win promotion to the Premier Division.
He quit playing in January 1992 and began his coaching career proper with the ill-fated Ayr Raiders. When that didn’t work out, he returned for another three seasons as Fife’s head coach followed by one at Dumfries, both times accompanied by his Czech assistant Milan Figala. In 1993-94, the Flyers were runners-up in the Premier Division and reached the Play-off semi-finals.
With the backing of Barr Construction, the builder of the town’s fine new arena Centrum, Ayr re-emerged as Scottish Eagles in Superleague’s inaugural season in 1996-97, and owner Bill Barr signed Lynch and Figala to coach. Their astute recruiting of North Americans and Europeans turned the side into a formidable unit that finished third in the professional league and reached another Play-off semi. Jim received the Coach of the Year award. The next winter, hockey’s ‘quiet man’ pulled off his greatest coaching triumph with the Grand Slam and took his second Coach of the Year crown.
Their success qualified Eagles for the European Hockey League in October 1998 where he was able to match his skills against the coaches of top continental sides. He gave the huge travelling Ayr contingent plenty of thrills by prevailing home and away over the Russian champs Ak Bars Kazan, and only losing in overtime at Litvinov, the crack Czech club.
Constant back pain forced him into retirement in October 2000. “I’m not able to stand for any length of time, skate or even go on coaches,” he explained. “I’ve been on a lot of pain-killers. It’s a hockey-related problem from the last 20 years and it’s caught up with me.”
During his 12-year playing career in Britain, he amassed a total of 935 points (452 goals) in 447 games while serving 549 penalty minutes. His coaching win percentage topped 0.50 in three of his five Superleague seasons as the Eagles won 116 of their 236 league and play-off games.
James Lynch was born on 6 June 1953 in Toronto, Ontario. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.